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8th Circuit Tosses Case Claiming Minnesota Chief Justices Should Be Elected

Posted Jan 27, 2011 9:02 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal appeals court has dismissed a lawsuit claiming Minnesota’s governor has misused the process for filling judicial vacancies to prevent elections for chief justice in the state.

The St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it has no jurisdiction to review a Minnesota ruling rejecting the claim, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.Two Twin Cities lawyers, Jill Clark and Gregory Wersal, were plaintiffs in the case.

The suit had argued that bypassing elections for chief justice violated the Minnesota Constitution’s preference for elections and the U.S. Constitution’s right to vote and run for public office, according to the 8th Circuit opinion (PDF). The complaint pointed out that the last three chief justices in the state had announced their resignations before the end of their terms, allowing the governor to fill the vacancies. As a result, there has not been an election for chief justice for 10 years.

The Minnesota Supreme Court had ruled there is no preference under Minnesota law to elect judges. Specific circumstances dictate whether judges should be elected or appointed under the state constitution, the court said, and each has its place.

The case is essentially an appeal from a state court judgment, the 8th Circuit said, and the U.S. Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction.

The federal appeals court also rejected a claim that the state’s mandatory retirement age for judges interfered with voters’ rights.

Hat tip to How Appealing.

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